When Wal-Mart wanted to come to Inglewood and Chicago, that familiar coalition of activists and religious leaders beat it back. It happens all the time in urban areas and now WM has turned to a long-time civil rights activist for help:
- When the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. wanted to present the case for civil rights to the white establishment, he turned to Andrew Young.
Forty years later, Young, a silver-tongued civil rights leader who represented striking sanitation workers in Tennessee and helped draft the Civil Rights Act of 1964, has been recruited to promote Wal-Mart as a company that serves the poor.
Young announced last month that he would be chairman of the national steering committee for Working Families for Wal-Mart â€“ a new group funded by Wal-Mart Stores Inc. to counter criticism of the company's treatment of employees and effect on local communities.
In two weeks WM will open its first store inside Atlanta's freeway loop. Sure the city has its share of fist-shakers who rail against WM, but other activists and religious leaders are welcoming the biggest box:
- The Gresham Road store is in a struggling, predominantly African American community not far from gentrifying neighborhoods.
"We're trusting and hoping that Wal-Mart revitalizes the area," said James McWhorter, church administrator of the Greater Piney Grove Baptist Church, which acted as a pre-hiring center for the new store. Nearly 5,000 people applied for 450 jobs.
Joseph Beasley, the Southern regional director for the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, said many mom-and-pop stores had taken advantage of poor African Americans.
"Many residents would love to have a Wal-Mart come in," said Beasley, who works in a poor northwest Atlanta community where, he said, small stores often charge high prices for spoiling meat and vegetables and impose 2% fees for cashing checks.
Last year, Black Enterprise magazine listed Wal-Mart as one of its "30 Best Companies for Diversity," based on the basis of what it called significant representation of blacks and other minorities.